ABC aiming for a comedy comeback

Network wants to bring back situation laffers

ABC is looking to reclaim its once-hot comedy brand.

Having struggled with half-hours in recent years, the Alphabet is looking at ways to bring back situation comedies in the vein of such past hits as “Roseanne” and “Home Improvement.”

“That kind of show is missing,” ABC Entertainment topper Steve McPherson said Friday at the Alphabet’s TV Critics Assn. sesh. “These are tough times, and people want more comfort food.”

McPherson noted that most of today’s half-hour laffers are observation-based setups.

“There’s an intimacy missing when the sitcom is nowhere on the air,” he said. “People respond to those comedies. I would like to see us get back to a contemporary version (of ‘Roseanne’ and ‘Home Improvement’). There’s a real place for that.”

Alphabet will take a number of stabs at developing such shows this year; among the laffers in the works at ABC are projects fronted by sitcom vets Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton.

In the larger development picture, McPherson said ABC’s large number of midseason bows won’t prevent him from picking up as many as 10 comedy and 10 drama pilots — likely the most of any network.

“We’re not cutting our R&D,” he said. “I believe that’s money really well spent. We’re not cutting pilots.”

McPherson declined comment on speculation that ABC is about to trim its staff and/or merge its studio and network programming units.

“Rumors are rumors,” he said. “Let’s deal with the reality of right now.”

Earlier in his meet with reporters, McPherson did say the net was looking at ways to be as cost-conscious as possible.

“The world has shifted underneath these businesses,” he said. “We have to be incredibly diligent and bold in what we do or we’ll be left by the wayside.”

McPherson also hinted that a new deal with “Desperate Housewives” creator Marc Cherry is imminent. Pact would keep Cherry as an exec producer on the show, but he’d likely turn his attention to developing other fare.

Exec said the network and studio sat down with Cherry before the holidays to discuss the future of the show and his part in it.

“Luckily for us, he decided we’d keep him on ‘Desperate’ in some capacity until the end of the show,” McPherson said. “He’s always said he’ll end the show next year, but he realized that I’d probably lock him up and not let him do that. Not only will he be a part of ‘Desperate’ but he’ll develop new material for us. He’s got some stuff he’s noodling on.”

Also at the ABC portion of the tour:

  • McPherson said he was “pleased” with NBC’s decision to strip Jay Leno at 10 p.m. next season and that ABC could benefit from the move.

    “Ten o’clock is such a coveted slot; talent like to be in that slot,” he said. CBS’ Nina Tassler and I “have different brands, so we’re both looking at it and excited that there will be viewers left by the wayside that we can grab.”

    McPherson said he hadn’t expected Leno to remain at NBC but that it allowed ABC to start discussing the future of “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

    “It’s a changing landscape, and we’re looking at everything,” he said.

  • ABC will announce the rest of its midseason launches sometime in the next week. McPherson — who said he wanted to see full cuts of the net’s new shows before making final sked decisions — hinted that animated comedy “The Goode Family” may launch in May.

  • McPherson continues to express concern about Nielsen’s measurement, noting that the ratings behemoth still doesn’t count viewers in spots such as bars and hotels.

  • “King of the Hill” won’t be coming to ABC despite rumors. McPherson said he had no plans to pick up the animated comedy, which Fox canceled late last year.

    Although other outlets have also kicked the tires on “King,” including NBC, 20th Century Fox TV insiders believe the show is over. But, they add, in the world of animation, shows are never really over (witness the revivals of “Family Guy” and “Futurama”).

  • The fate of “Scrubs” continues to be uncertain, although McPherson hinted that a renewal is unlikely.

    “I think it would be hard to do the show without Zach (Braff),” he said.

    It’s probably also curtains for “According to Jim”: “I think this is probably the final run, but you never say never,” McPherson said.

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